Opinion on Parole: from Criminologist Jonathan Simon

Jonathan Simon is the author of “Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Society and Created a Culture of Fear” (Oxford University Press, 2007), a book about how the war on crime changed American law, society, and government. He is a professor of law at University of California at Berkeley. Writing about our production of “Something You Did,” he comments:

This is a very important exercise in civic education. After four decades of wars on crime and terror, parole has become chronically politicized even in cases far less publicized than that of Kathy Boudin. Granting parole to a person convicted of murder is considered by many to be a betrayal of the victim, even when the prisoner is remorseful, has served for decades and is viewed by prison officials as having become a positive force for society (which was true of Boudin long before she was finally paroled). As a result politicians are fearful of ever opting for freedom.

In my state of California, the law allows Governors to veto any parole for murder, and they do in almost every case no matter the facts. The same politics is evident in the New York controversy over the proposed Muslim community center a few blocks from the World Trade Center site. Politicians have fallen over themselves to speak in the name of the victims, even when the sentiments are unjustified and even a threat to national security. Giving ordinary citizens a chance to weigh the real issues in a parole hearing is the best possible way to educate citizens against this kind of politics of fear and vengeance.

Thanks for mounting this production and I hope it travels far and wide.